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Morning After: #25 Creighton Builds Huge First Half Lead Over UT Arlington, Holds Off Late Rally for 90-81 Win

Morning After: #25 Creighton Builds Huge First Half Lead Over UT Arlington, Holds Off Late Rally for 90-81 Win

[Box Score]

Bluejay Beat Podcast:

Recap & Analysis:

Creighton had a 25-point lead late in the first half, an honestly surprising result against one of the better mid-major teams in the country and a probable NCAA Tournament team come March. The Bluejays had played their best half of basketball of the season on both ends of the floor, led by Marcus Foster, who scored 22 points before the half, and an opportunistic defense that forced 10 turnovers.

UT Arlington led briefly after a layup by Johnny Hamilton put them up 13-11. Then Khyri Thomas picked UTA’s Link Kabadyundi’s pocket and a clinic on team ball movement led to this three that gave CU the lead:

The Jays were up 14-13 after eight minutes, and the game was progressing more or less as expected — two veteran teams trading shots from their best players, with neither squad able to put a run together to create separation. Ronnie Harrell gave them a spark off the bench, hitting a three to make it 17-13, grabbing an offensive board and converting an old-fashioned three point play to make it 20-16, assisting on a three-pointer by Ty-Shon Alexander that pushed the lead out to 23-16, and clearing the glass after a defensive stop to set up a three-pointer by Foster to give them a 10-point lead.

It was the start of an 18-2 run that turned what had been a 17-16 Creighton edge into a 35-18 blowout, in the span of just six minutes. Foster punctuated the run with a steal and fastbreak dunk:

UTA scored five straight as they tried to keep the game from spiraling out of control, but then Thomas came up with a highlight-reel steal on the Mavs’ Erick Neal. Thomas used his length to force Neal one direction, then poked the ball out the other direction, and left Neal falling away as Thomas streaked up court for a layup.

Manny Suarez assisted on two consecutive three-pointers, one each by Foster and Thomas, and the Jays took their largest lead at 48-23 with 2:23 to play. Another steal by Thomas led to this breakaway dunk (and technical foul for hanging on the rim, which the officials had no choice but to call after whistling UTA’s Kevin Hervey for the same thing earlier in the half):

CU led 52-32 at the break, and with Foster on fire I commented that it felt like the type of night where he could go off for 40+ and challenge Doug McDermott’s arena record. But if the score held, there’s no way he’d play long enough to get there. So I did something extremely foolish and tweeted this, in hindsight basically taunting the universe to make it so:

And so when UTA opened the second half by making four of their first seven 3-pointers while Creighton missed 11 of their first 14 shots, cutting the Jays’ 20 point lead to nine at 64-55 with 11:02 to play, people let me know about it. And rightfully so. Man, was that stupid.

The basketball gods pay attention to tongue-in-cheek Twitter wishes from a bottom-tier sports blogger a little more than I expected them to. Mea culpa!

In all seriousness though, most observers figured a tough, veteran team like UTA would make a run to get back into the game, and they did. But the Mavericks could never get close enough to *really* make Creighton and their fans sweat because every time they were on the precipise of doing so, Foster had an answer. After UTA had cut the lead to 64-55, he drove into the teeth of the defense and created a basket for Martin Krampelj. Then he followed an emphatic dunk by Kaelon Wilson for UTA by sticking a jumper, completing a defensive stop with a rebound in traffic, and assisting on a three-pointer by Thomas — followed by an assist on a three-pointer by Mitch Ballock on the next possession to push the lead back out to 15.

In the midst of that mini-run, Hervey was whistled for a foul and because his arm had connected with Ronnie Harrell’s face, the officials went to the monitor to see if it should be switched to a flagrant foul. Instead, they waved off the foul entirely, explaining that Harrell was in the “player cylinder,” whatever that means.

The Bluejays’ Twitter account got a little salty, much to the amusement of Jays fans:

Many observers, from the Omaha World-Herald’s Jon Nyatawa to Creighton play-by-play announcer John Bishop to, well, me, were surprised by the call because none of us were aware officials could reverse a foul call via replay. I’d never seen it happen before, anyway.

Tuesday morning, Bishop did some research in the college basketball rulebook and explained it thusly:

In any event, just a really, really weird call that thankfully did not affect either team or the outcome of the game, as Foster crossed the 30-point threshold on this dunk:

And despite some late sloppiness with the basketball against UTA’s full-court press, the Jays won 90-81. It’s a win that should pay dividends in March, but leaves Creighton with some things to work on before Big East play — from another slow start to the second half, to the array of sloppy turnovers in the final 90 seconds.

The Jays’ performance left UTA coach Scott Cross impressed. “Creighton’s the best team I’ve seen in a long, long time,” he told the media afterward. “The speed they play at is absolutely amazing. The way they pass the ball, the way they run in transition. I don’t think I’ve ever played a team that’s better in transition than them. They shoot the ball, they execute, they’re way tougher defensively probably than I was expecting as well. I envy the way they play. That’s the way I’d love for our guys to play in transition. It’s absolutely amazing and we’ll clip out a lot of stuff to show it to our guys on film.”

Cross continued his praise by saying the Bluejays are one of the best teams he’s ever faced. “I’d put them up there with Memphis and Derrick Rose, playing that team. I remember Kyle Korver’s team here at Creighton that we played when I was an assistant coach. They’re up there.”

Key Stats:

Both teams were efficient in sharing the ball, as UTA had 17 assists on 33 made baskets and Creighton had 20 assists on their 31 field goals.

The Jays were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, and had 15 turnovers. UTA outscores Creighton 23-10 on points off of those turnovers, and turned eight second-half turnovers by the Bluejays into 15 points, outscoring CU 15-1 on points off turnovers after halftime. The Mavericks also outscored the Jays 28-12 on points in the paint in the second, although after making four of their first seven 3-pointers in the half, they made just one more the rest of the game (1-8).

Standout Performance:

Martin Krampelj narrowly missed his third double-double in the last four games, scoring eight points with 11 rebounds despite playing through a cold. Ronnie Harrell had nine points, seven boards and two assists. Khyri Thomas scored 16 points, with five boards, five assists and three steals.

But Marcus Foster was the story. The senior scored a season-high 32 points on 12-20 shooting, with six rebounds, four assists, and two steals in 35 minutes. He made plays on both ends of the floor, and set the tone from the opening tip with his energy and vocal leadership on defense. How good was his first half? A Bluejay player has scored 22+ points in the first half just five times in their Big East era, including last night:

Here’s 90 seconds of Foster’s best moments, courtesy of the Big East’s Twitter account:

They Said It:

You Said It:

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